“Many years ago my husband Fred, primarily a financial news and nonfiction reader, was heading off on a work trip and decided to take along one of my favorite novels of all time, I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb. He knew how important the book was to me and decided to finally see what all my hype was about, despite the daunting 897 pages. As soon as his plane landed at his destination I called to ask what he thought of it so far. In a slightly irritated tone, he explained he couldn’t answer that yet because he had to put the book down mid-flight. Otherwise he feared he’d start crying in front of the other passengers, which he preferred not to do. He also asked, with sheer wonder in his voice, why I would seek out—never mind recommend—a book that was so full of heartache.
It’s a fair question. What drives some of us to read books that put us through an emotional wringer? Sure, storytelling is part of our DNA; humans have found educational and entertainment value in stories since cave drawings. But Fred has always questioned why I choose to read and write this kind of story, the kind that causes the reader significant anguish on a character’s behalf. And he’s not alone; many people refrain from such books because the psychological toll is just too high. Yet novels and memoirs about messy, complicated families have only become more popular over time.
I believe this is because stories are about conflict, and our families are often the source of some of the greatest conflict in our lives. What motivates some of us to dive into these often agonizing books is likely the same thing that prompts others to steer clear: they lead us to explore the good, the bad, and the ugly in ourselves and our relationships. And this is painful at times. But, I would argue to Fred, by examining ourselves and our family dynamics we not only avoid repeating painful history, but with greater understanding comes forgiveness, and the opportunity for redemption….”excerpt from: The DNA of Storytelling: Making the Case for Messy Family Books
Tracey Lange on the Complicated, Raw Emotional Chaos of Familial Histories
By Tracey Lange
August 4, 2021